The movie had a lot of issues from the get go – a rushed production schedule, a loose interpretation of X-Men lore, no headlining stars, confusion over its continuity – but it also had the promise of a great director (Matthew Vaughn), some great leading actors (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) and the return of X-Men movie guru Bryan Singer to the franchise he started back in 2000.
Now that X-Men: First Class has debuted in theaters to critical acclaim but a lukewarm first-week box office, it seems that all the uproar and debate that erupted in comment threads all over the Internet for years now will end without any clear “winner” being decided. The angry fanboys who claimed the film would be a stillborn bastard weren’t correct in their assessment – and neither were the unabashedly optimistic believers who said the film would be the best X-Men and/or comic book movie ever. As always, the truth ended up somewhere in the middle…
So, it is that even-keeled middle ground we will stand on as we explore “The 5 Things We Learned from X-Men: First Class.”
Before we begin, be sure to read our official X-Men: First Class review to know where we stand in regard to the film.
5. You Can’t Rush a Movie to Greatness
As much as I enjoyed First Class, one thing that irked me while watching it (and will likely irk me forever) was seeing all the points where “the seams” of the film showed through. By “seams,” I mean all the places where there clearly wasn’t time or attention given to touch up a shot, or polish some hokey dialogue; time to sit back and look at the script and decide which themes and aspects of the story were working most effectively (Xavier / Magneto), and which ones needed to be toned down or outright cut from the story (the auxiliary mutants who served little purpose).
If you really watch First Class closely, the lack of revision and refinement slowly becomes more and more apparent. There was definitely a great film in there, somewhere – but unfortunately I don’t believe Matthew Vaughn had adequate time to reach it, despite the praises of some fans and critics.
Green Lantern and Captain America are two more comic book movies that are racing to meet strict deadlines, and both of them have had longer production schedules than First Class‘s ridiculously short 10-month production schedule. When you have a film that requires a large ensemble cast, shooting locations all over the world, a complicated multi-storyline script, and plenty of effects-heavy action sequences, there needs to be ample time to fit all the many pieces together into a cohesive, polished, final product.From what we’ve heard, Matthew Vaughn’s experience making First Class included everything from on-the-fly script rewrites and reshoots, to eleventh-hour races to get all the effects in place for opening day.
Having been in the writing game for a decade now, I can tell: you can indeed produce something good in a rushed fashion, if the deadline demands it and you have the focus; however, something great absolutely requires time for a creator to be able to step back, assess his/her work, and decide what improvements should be made. Revision is the key to brilliance. You take away that time from any creative artist, and the art is ultimately going to be diminished. First Class was no exception.
Like I said, watching this movie in the future is really going to irk me: there’s nothing worse than looking at what is, while constantly imagining what could’ve been. Just ask my ex-girlfriend about that one ;-).
4. Brand Recognition Has Its Downside
It’s a popular trend in Hollywood (right now?) to try and make box office profits from established brands, even when those brands are something you would never, ever, expect to be the basis of a movie. This brand recognition thing has gone so far that our immediate future is peppered with movies based on board games (Battleship, Monopoly, Candyland), toys (Transformers, Stretch Armstrong) and countless “re-imaginings” of classic literary works (Snow White, The Wizard of Oz, The Three Musketeers).
However, X-Men: First Class has proven that brand recognition doesn’t automatically equal box office fortune – especially when your brand has been tainted. First Class made $56 million its opening weekend, which is the lowest opening for an X-Men movie, ever. (Some people point to Bryan Singer’s first X-Men and its opening weekend take of about $54 million, but if you account for inflation in years between 2000 and 2011, that number would be considerably higher by today’s standards.)
The problem? A film with no big stars on the marquee (some solid and rising stars, but no headliners like Halle Berry or Patrick Stewart), combined with a bad taste still swirling in the mouths of moviegoers who felt once-or-twice burned by the franchise’s lackluster previous offerings, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
You still have nightmares about us, don’t you?
In the end, First Class wasn’t able to sell itself as something fresh enough for moviegoers to give it the required fresh chance. Confusion about whether the film was a prequel to Singer’s films or a reboot of the franchise – and the greater confusion when it was announced that it was both a prequel and reboot – didn’t help to provide moviegoers (geek and non-geek alike) with any serious incentive to approach the film as a clean slate.
Sure, many of the people who actually saw First Class ultimately realized that all those negative early impressions were unfounded… but they had to actually pay for a ticket and sit in the theater first. A lot of people simply weren’t willing to take the chance of being burned a third time.
3. Fanboy Stubbornness Knows No End
When the X-Men: First Class trailers started hitting the Web, there was quick turnaround in opinion. Before the trailers, only a small, dedicated few believed in director Matthew Vaughn so blindly that they thought this project had hope. Even amongst that minority, most were worried that the narrow production schedule, combined with the possibility of Vaughn (again) facing possible creative friction with FOX, would make First Class crash and burn.
Like everyone else, your average X-Men fanboy was pretty upset when First Class was announced. But where many movie fans were willing to give the film a chance once they saw some good stuff in the trailers and character trailers, the most hardcore holdouts in the X-Men fanboy inner circle remained unswayed – and still remain unswayed to this day.
The problem was continuity. Hardcore X-fans said that Matthew Vaughn and Co. had “re-imagined” the X-Men’s origins so drastically that First Class – while promising – bore so little resemblance to anything in the X-Men Universe that the very title “X-Men” was unfitting. I for one figured that – as is usually the case with such naysayers – the lures of opening day and positive viewer reactions would cause even the biggest holdouts to do a 180° turn and head to the theater. But this was not the case. At all.
Despite what you want to say about the quality of First Class (or lack thereof), there is clearly a contingent of fans who are making their voices heard through their wallets: They want this franchise (and all its convoluted and/or broken continuity) out of FOX’s hands, while the rights to the property get reverted back home to Marvel Studios.
Would a return of the X-Men rights to Marvel guarantee a fresh and better start for the X-Men franchise? While certain fanboys may blindly believe that, it’s far from guarantee. Then again, many are saying that Matthew Vaughn has given the franchise a fresh start with First Class…so I guess it depends on which side of the debate you fall on.
What we have learned, though, is that a lot of fanboys are only open to so much change being made to their beloved source material. Push them too far, and apparently they will indeed bail on you. It’s also a very important lesson for any major studio currently mishandling a movie franchise: people have longer memories than you think, and they won’t keep paying out and showing up just because a film bears a familiar name. The franchise must be worthy.
2. Altering The Source Material Can Be A Good Thing
I’m sure I’m going to lose that aforementioned contingent of hardcore fans that don’t like their comic book mythos messed with, but I’m going to say it regardless: Sometimes (admittedly rare times) there are ideas that comic book movie makers introduce into the mythos, which are simply more logical, organized, or downright better than what the comics have established. Such was the case with the Xavier/Magneto backstory in First Class
I’ve always thought that Sam Raimi’s introduction of organic web-shooters for his movie version of Spider-Man was smart and logical; I feel the same way about a lot of the details Chris Nolan put into Batman Begins, in order to explain the character’s origins in a more modern, realistic way. The fact is, great creative visionaries come in a variety of different forms – whether they be comic book writers or movie makers. More to the point: comic books have always been about creative collaboration and creative evolution, so I’ve never understood why (or how) some people believe that a comic book movie should be this heavily restricted form of storytelling. At the end of the day, for me, a good idea is a good idea.
X-Men: First Class is a perfect example. For all the movie’s flaws, one point of consensus is that the relationship between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) is the most spectacular aspect of not just this film, but of any comic book movie to date. And (gasp!) most of the pivotal relationship depicted in First Class was original material created for the film…not a retelling of the comic books.
From their first meeting to their fledging friendship and ultimate falling out, First Class presented the Xavier/Magneto relationship in a way that (in my opinion) vastly improved on all the comic mythos of the last half-century – while still preserving the core essence of the respective characters and their themes.
Magneto as a super-powered man of espionage, hunting down Nazi war criminals? Much better than the guy in the comics, who tried to live peaceful for a time on a mystical mountain of animal people, only to eventually slide into mutant terrorism. How about Xavier as a dangerously naive young rascal who had no tact to go along with his invasive mind powers? For my money, that was much better than a perennial saint/zen master who has only had his bald head tarnished in recent decades.
First Class took two characters who have been done to do death (and back, and dead, and back again) and still managed to make them something fresh, dynamic, relatable and exciting. If I could have it my way, the comics would incorporate the mythology of First Class Xavier and Magneto into the canon, and would be all the better for it.
Others are going to point to other liberties First Class took – Havok and the White Queen’s ages, the almost unrecognizable roster of X-Men, Kevin Bacon’s “lean, mean” Sebastian Shaw – and admittedly some of those changes did fall flatter than others. However, for all the failed experimentation, I still feel that the movie succeeded with its new ideas more than it didn’t. More importantly, I don’t think I ever want to see the day where filmmakers stop taking risks. Sure nothing would be lost – but nothing potentially great would be gained, either.
1. The Quality of a Film Isn’t All That Matters (Though it Should Be)
It is (sadly) the case with comic book movies in particular that the actual quality of the film – as a standalone work of artistic expression – is a diminishing topic in the public discourse surrounding the film. Thanks to the nature of the comic book medium and its fanbase, questions of continuity, interpretation, casting choices, creative liberties and/or changes and even studio ownership are now debated long and hard before someone even asks the question, “Does this film tell a complete story in an engaging, interesting and/or fun way?”
Some fans have already claimed that X-Men: First Class is a fantastic superhero summer action blockbuster…it’s just not a good “X-Men” movie. That’s a debate for the comment section, for sure, but I do know this: In my understanding, it has always been the job of a filmmaker and his/her crew to convey a story that is complete and well-told. A movie is meant to stand on its own two legs and hold itself up effectively. I had serious problems with Iron Man 2 over this exact issue.
IM2 might’ve “honored” the source material and kept the continuity of the first film intact – but as a standalone feature film I still view it as failure. Instead of a self-contained, cohesive narrative, IM2 was a “bridge-piece” meant to foster the larger Marvel Movie universe, thereby compromising basic narrative flow and logic in the process.
If you can’t tell from my phrasing, I can see how the opposing case could be made for X-Men: First Class: a film that breaks from source material and continuity, but is able to stand firm on its own as a self-contained story about hope, prejudice, friendship, betrayal, politics and personal values. It’s too bad that all that other stuff got in the way, because a good film should be able to be appreciated for what it is, on its own – independent of where and how it fits into the larger scheme of things.
Franchise movie making is great, as is the idea of large cinematic universes; however, as The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises have proven with their respective sequels, few people walk away from a two-plus-hour film pleased with only half a story having been told – no matter how many great setups and Easter eggs get planted. For my money, I’d much rather get a complete and fulfilling X-Men experience, rather than a film that has to bend, twist and compromise itself for the sake of comic book fidelity or movie continuity – especially when the films it’s trying to fit itself with are X-Men: The Last Stand and Wolverine. But that’s just me.
X-Men: First Class has another week for positive word a mouth to bring it some extra box office cash (the only big opening this week is J.J. Abrams’ mysterious (too mysterious?) Super 8) – after that, Green Lantern will smash into theaters and capture the attention of the superhero movie crowd (and probably a much wider audience than that). When that happens, First Class will be all but dead in the water (at least in the U.S.).
The future of the X-Men movie franchise is unclear right now. Will Matthew Vaughn be back for an X-Men: First Class sequel? One that perhaps steers the franchise back into more familiar waters? Or will FOX move ahead with plans for X-Men 4 & X-Men 5, bringing the franchise back to the modern era and continuity established in the original trilogy?
I’m sure we’ll know more details very soon – in the meantime, debate all the hype, hoopla, and quality of X-Men: First Class in the comment section below.